Stepping off of the plane in Siem Reap, I was reminded of the little island airport in Kerkyra, Greece. The sun was bright, the weather warm and pleasant. Inside, passengers filled out visa apps, paid their $20USD, and watched as passports were passed down a line of immigration officers for processing. At the other end of the counter, passengers lined up waiting for their names to be mispronounced with a Cambodian twang.
After changing some Vietnamese Dong to Cambodian Riels, I made my way out to find a tuk tuk driver holding a sign that read: TONY SWARTHOUT from CARLIEN and STEPH. Barang was the friendly driver's name and he led me to a two-wheeled rickshaw type thing, towed behind a motorcycle. Another SE Asian form of transport to add to the list. At the Family Hotel, I quickly checked into my room and pulled some clothes to throw into laundry service. My cargo shorts hadn't been washed in ages, food staining the front and mud spots staining the back. I accidentally locked my keys in the room. Not a big deal unless the caretaker doesn't have a spare key, which was the case discovered after ten minutes of going through a tangled bunch of keys. Finally, a couple of guys worked a window open and used a long stick to fish the keys from my bed. I wondered why I have such clumsy luck sometimes.
After sorting that out, I went up and met the girls. We headed to the Red Piano for lunch. I had a pile of Belgian fries and Lok Lak, Cambodian stir-fried beef with garlic, onions, and pepper sauce. A hefty meal provided by my friends AMY & DAN. A couple of hours later we tuk tuk'd over to Bakheng to watch the sunset. It could have been a magical experience if not for the hundreds of tourists swarming on top of this temple on a hill. Still, it was a nice first taste of Angkor's ancient ruins.
In the evening we stopped off for ice cream and free wifi at De La Paix cafe. They serve the worst homemade ice cream I've ever tasted in my life. Hideous and expensive. Turns out that the US dollar is the predominant currency used in Cambodia. This drives the prices up for everything. Using Riel instead of dollars sort of makes everyone sigh like you're being difficult. I wasn't used to seeing my home currency used for transactions. It made spending ultra real.
The next morning we woke up to head to Angkor Wat at 5am to catch the sunrise. This was miserably early. You'd think that this might me a good time to 'beat the crowds' but everyone's been told that sunrise at Angkor Wat is a magical experience. It wasn't. We were too tired and irritable to hang out with tourist groups laughing and shouting and snapping photos at 5:30 in the morning. The crowds reminded us of being in Europe in the dead of tourist season. We made our way around to three or four other temples the rest of the morning, some completely empty and others swarming with people. By noon we were hot and sleepy so we called it a day and napped the afternoon away.
In the evening we at at the Temple Bar which offered a free Apsara dancing show. I'd ordered some strange Cambodian dish, mainly because it contained morning glory and I wanted to know what that was. I'm still not sure. I've noticed that I get really excited when there's something weird on a menu or if we see some weird fruit at a market. Custard apples, jack fruit, dragon fruit, lok lak, larb gai, curry of every color... unfortunately, food poisoning has made me a bit less daring when it comes to tasting things like dog or duck embryo (sorry Dan).
In the morning we hopped a 7am bus through the bumpy and dusty roads of Cambodia to the border of Thailand. We switched buses on the other side and spent a few more hours making our way to Bangkok. Steph's left to Koh Phangan to meet her friend and I'm heading to Chiang Mai this evening with Carlien for a few days. But right now, it's time to hunt for knock-off Rolex watches and cheap t-shirts.